Hebbian Yearning

Anthony Repetto
5 min readFeb 4, 2024

~ we repeat what we see, regardless of consequence ~

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

TL;DR — ‘Hebbian Learning’ is the old-school neuro-science jargon for “what fires together wires together”… that is, “if I see two things over and over, together, then my brain will put them together.” Hebbian Learning does NOT care if you received punishments or rewards for your actions — you simply regurgitate whatever patterns of behavior that you practice. That might be the Doom of Love, dear Bachelor.

The Games

Imagine you are a 14 year old boy, playing a first-person shooter game — will it make you behave violently? Nope. Look, instead, at the physical, mental, and emotional *tasks* that are asked of you, during that time: you are aiming-and-clicking repeatedly, quickly, competitively, aiming-and-clicking for a numeric reward, either points or levels or items. THAT is what those games train us to do. We wait until opportunities are presented, in steady and planned fashion, without any impulse or drive of our OWN to pursue something *outside* the bounds of the game’s goals. We act fast, click-click, to score fast, with the whole ordeal completed in less than one hour. I would expect to see greater difficulty being persistently focused on a task, when gamers lack repeated rewards; ‘gamification’ atrophies our *internal* motivations and perseverance! Further, the flat, iconic ‘skins’ are dehumanized caricatures, without any empathy for suffering or loss — players gloat at others’ mistakes and churn through opponents without ever relating to them the way a boxer once would. Empathy, compassion for an adversary, is essential for de-escalating conflicts — I expect those first-person-shooter fans are more focused on their own first-person.

Similarly, consider the young woman who spends hours at a time swiping LEFT! She sees a photo, glances at a few key characteristics — height, income, build & adventurousness, before deciding ‘inadequate!’ due to a minuscule slight. She might only be on a date a few times a week, for a few hours… while she is on the APP for a dozen times longer! After spending an entire decade swiping-left on tens of thousands of men, for reasons which had nothing to do with the mens’ Integrity or Compassion, those women have burned a habit into their brains: “Give-up on a guy, as soon as he isn’t Perfect!” “Oh, no, ICK!” “My list of deal breakers are: 1) He doesn’t text back in a way I like…” Those women have *trained* themselves to act with zero empathy or integrity toward the men those women claim to ‘love’. A Venmo deposit as a pre-requisite to a first conversation is the behavior of someone seeking personal gain, NOT someone who hopes to relate to the feelings and experiences of their lover.

And, the neuroscience is not forgiving:

Because you both spent a few decades engaged in your respective Habits, burning that Hebbian Learning into your brains, *now* your brain has ‘crystalized’ and the chance of you ever changing your behaviors is VERY low. Even if you DO manage to change, it will only be after an immense *effort* on your part, using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, as well as from your friends and family… and your LOVER. That means you, unfortunately, are a *burden* for creating self-defeating habits which your partner inevitably must manage with you — if anyone does have a better option than being with you, they’ll take it.

I’ve been warning y’all about this Hebbian Learning stuff for decades…

“If you spend all your time watching Hannah Montana and Gossip Girls, then *regardless* of the bad-RESULTS in those shows, AND regardless of the bad results in your OWN life, the simple fact that you KEEP watching them will ensure that you *repeat* their abusive behaviors…”

“If you only ever try to solve simple, little airplane-book puzzles quickly, with the fore-knowledge that ‘this DOES have a solution,’ then you never practice working on HARD problems with NO clear solution… The most important problems seemed ‘impossible’ when someone BEGAN working on them, and that will never be you, if you ONLY give yourself easy tests.”

“If you refuse to practice healthy communication and ‘Affective Empathy’ in each of your committed relationships, then you are practicing *bad* habits, instead. You are supposed to be learning ‘how do I become a LOVING Person’ through the process of *you* BEING loving to others. A relationship is a chance for YOU to relate, NOT a ‘free-fun-time’-ship. Good Grandmas start YOUNG!”

“If you keep thinking of ‘the THING I can DO to my LOOKS’ that will *force* someone to like you, then the *reason* that they like you is because of your LOOKS! And then, you have only *captured* the person who you want to *possess*, without ever considering if YOU are being Loving TO THEM. Erich Fromm wrote about those two ways of relating back in the 1940’s — “The Art of Loving” was a best-seller, regularly discussed… and Martin Buber wrote “I/Thou I/It” describing related concepts, which became the basis for our term ‘objectification’. That is, when you treat your lover as an entertainment device, whose purpose is to make you happy, then you have ‘objectified’ them — as soon as you ‘aren’t getting what I wanted out of the relationship’ then you dispose of that person. In contrast, we must practice Affective Empathy, feeling the emotions that the other person has experienced, for just a little while.”

Unfortunately, few listened. They were busy watching the latest season of The Bachelor. And now, peeking back at the world of dating after a decade away, I am HORRIFIED by the voluminous vacuousness that has supplanted love. We have known proper communication techniques, from Imago Mirroring Technique, to Bill Ury’s Principled Negotiation (his first book on the topic, “Getting to Yes” is still considered ‘the Hostage Negotiator’s Bible’ — which might help in your romantic relationships!) for over 40 years now! I used them gladly in my long-term, committed, compassionate relationships — without boredom or hallmark-card tin-smiles! There is NO excuse to pretend that the newest pop-psych tiktok epiphany is correct; the answers have been the same since Zoroastrians and the ancient Matriarchy of Egypt: “Humans YEARN to re-unite with another Soul. We seek to *feel* what another life has felt, to intertwine with their heart’s experience of existence, especially those parts which hurt the most. That is the Blessed Union of Souls. Whoever Loves Truly is then open to the experience of True Love; it does not feel like butterflies. You feel their anguish, their regrets, their confusion, their longing. Two hearts hurts double.”

Good luck changing your own Mind after spending so long swiping ‘inadequate’ Souls away.